Sharks’ Ryan Merkley Needs More Ice Time

Ryan Merkley was the San Jose Sharks’ first-round selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. In that season, he put up 67 points in 63 games with the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). While his point production was above average, his plus-minus rating was especially low, indicating the need for defensive improvement, so his development continued in the OHL for the next two seasons. Though his point totals slightly increased, his plus-minus rating got much better. After spending time with three different OHL teams, Merkley finally made the jump to professional leagues.

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Since the Sharks drafted Merkley, he has always been projected to have elite potential. He had decent offensive upside with slick hands, but his defensive game never reached where it needed to be to play in the NHL. As a result, questions about whether he would be able to live up to his potential came up. However, after plenty of time developing, it may finally be time for him to get minutes with the Sharks.

The Sharks’ Shot Season

This season has been a disappointment in numerous ways for the Sharks. The injury bug has struck them, the veteran leadership has been performing only partially up to standard, and they have once again set themselves up to most likely miss the playoffs. Outside of the upcoming prospects and a chance at the draft lottery, there is not much for Sharks fans to look forward to for the remainder of the year.

Ryan Merkley San Jose Sharks
Ryan Merkley, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With the odds of making the playoffs looking as dim as they are right now, the Sharks should be trying to fill out their roster with younger players. The main disadvantage to playing prospects often during the regular season is that their skill level may not be equal with their team members just yet. However, if the playoff chances are already small, there is no reason not to give players like Merkley a shot.

The Sharks have a lot of prospects and younger players that are nearing their time in the NHL. Considering how long Merkley has been developing, perhaps all he needs is a real chance to make an impact. Granted, he has played 26 NHL games this season, but he has spent most of those games getting little ice time. Even if he does not perform the best, the season is mostly over, so letting him play could be massive for his development.

Issues on the Blue Line

One of the reasons that the Sharks have struggled to find success this season is their defense. Outside of Erik Karlsson, who seems to have had a resurgence this season, the defensemen have been anything but impressive. Brent Burns has been putting up points, but he has been a defensive liability. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has struggled to keep up with the flow of the game. One of the better defensemen on the Sharks, Jacob Middleton, was traded to the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline, so the Sharks are in desperate need of defensive help.

OHL, Ryan Merkley, Guelph Storm
Ryan Merkley’s stock could change with a good Combine week. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Now that the opportunity to trade players has passed for the remainder of this season, the Sharks will need to try to find defensive help from within their organization. The veterans are struggling, and none of the remaining young players have been especially spectacular. This is where Merkley comes in.

While Merkley has never been known for his defensive ability, that does not mean that he is useless on the blue line. On the contrary, he has been steadily improving his defensive game since he was drafted. The Sharks could use any help they could get. He may not be the answer to every defensive issue the team has, but he could be a breath of fresh air to a very stale defensive core.

Time for a Shakeup

The Sharks’ players have not clicked for a long time, as the chemistry between them has been nowhere near the level it was only a few years ago. Theoretically, they have a roster that could potentially push for the playoffs, but they can not seem to put the missing pieces together. As if their defensive issues were not bad enough, finding the back of the net has been another problem facing them all season.

When the Sharks drafted Merkley, his offensive production abilities were the main thing that pulled him into the first round. Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture have been leading the Sharks’ offense this season, but the drop in production is dramatic after the top few players. They need someone to step up and get the team going. More likely than not, they will try to find more offensive help from prospects like William Eklund and Daniil Gushchin next season, but Merkley could try to get the ball rolling as the season concludes.

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There is no question that the Sharks will be facing a decent amount of adversity in the coming seasons. Despite the constant attempts from general manager Doug Wilson to make a playoff push, the current roster just can not seem to get it done. As a result, there is no better time to get Merkley playing in the lineup. He once had the potential to at least be a top-four defenseman on the Sharks. Maybe if management is willing to give him more ice time as the season concludes, he can find that spark again.

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